Do lenient Pennsylvania DUI laws leave motorists in danger?

A recent analysis found that Pennsylvania has the nation's third most relaxed DUI laws, which could leave motorists in danger of alcohol-related accidents.

In 2013, more than 45,000 people were arrested for driving under the influence in Pennsylvania, according to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. That same year, 368 people lost their lives in alcohol-related accidents. Troublingly, 2013 wasn't especially exceptional or unusual. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4,663 people were killed in Pennsylvania DUI crashes between 2003 and 2012.

Although the state's rate of deadly drunk driving accidents has declined over the last decade, it still remains alarmingly high. A new analysis suggests that this may partly be due to Pennsylvania's DUI laws, which are among the mildest DUI laws in the country.

Relaxed laws

ABC News reports that WalletHub recently completed an analysis of DUI laws in all 50 states. The strictness of each state's laws was ranked based on 15 factors. According to the analysis, only two states have DUI laws that are weaker or more lenient than the laws observed in Pennsylvania. Some key factors that contributed to the state's spot at the bottom of the rankings include:

  • Minimum jail time for first and second offenses. Currently, Pennsylvania has no mandated minimum jail time for first offenses, and the minimum sentence for a second offense is just five days.
  • Administrative license suspension. Pennsylvania lacks an administrative license suspension law, and consequently, people arrested for DUI can keep their licenses until conviction.
  • Felony DUI charges. Although DUIs can be charged as felonies under certain circumstances in Pennsylvania, there are no automatic felony DUI charges.

Unfortunately, these relatively weak laws may be part of the reason that drunk driving remains such a widespread problem in Pennsylvania.

Reform attempts

Encouragingly, last year, lawmakers did strengthen one troubling aspect of the state's DUI laws by passing new legislation. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the new law removed a loophole that allowed people with multiple DUI charges to be treated as first-time offenders.

Before this law, authorities had to follow a 2009 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling. The ruling held that sentencing in a first DUI case had to be complete before a driver could be charged as a repeat offender. As a result, people who had multiple arrests over short periods were often charged repeatedly as first-time offenders. One man, for example, was arrested for DUI five times in a year. Instead of facing appropriate penalties, he was charged with five first-time DUIs and spent just 50 days in prison.

Further revisions to make state DUI laws stronger might deter intoxicated driving and ensure that convicted offenders receive appropriate punishment. At present, however, weak laws may leave innocent motorists exposed to a high risk of drunk driving and associated motor vehicle accidents.

Help is available

Drunk driving accidents can have life-changing consequences, especially for other motorists. In these circumstances, injury victims might have legal recourse. Speaking with a car accident attorney can be a beneficial starting point for anyone who has been hurt because of a drunk driver's reckless actions.

Keywords: DUI, accidents, Drunk driving, ABC News, charges